It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the waters of Standard. Up until last week, I hadn’t played a game since Paris, instead focusing on drafting and playing Extended. Luckily, the Channelfireball 5k last weekend gave me incentive to get the band (of Hawks) back together, so I started by doing a little research. The UWr Caw-blade deck Gerry played looked pretty sweet, so I harassed him about it.

I do apologize for yet another article about this deck, but I feel the changes I ended up making are significant enough to warrant the discussion.

The only changes he really wanted to make was to play [card linvala, keeper of silence]Linvala[/card] in the sideboard, in anticipation of more mirror matches, and cut a [card]Day of Judgment[/card] for an [card]Inferno Titan[/card]. I wasn’t content with that level of brewing, so I set out to “improve” Gerry’s list. I ran the list he used at the Starcitygames Open in DC, since you really shouldn’t start out testing a deck by making changes before you play it at all. While I had played the base deck a lot, once the red got added it changed enough that I didn’t feel like tinkering with it until I had some games under my belt.

After some battles, the main change I made was to cut two Day of Judgments for two [card]Arc Trail[/card]s. The only matchup where Day was significantly better than [card]Arc Trail[/card] was Valakut, and the way this deck is built, I don’t think it’s going to beat a resolved Titan anyway. With zero Edges and zero [card]Spreading Seas[/card], even if you Wrath away a Titan, you are still pretty much dead, especially since you are also Wrathing away all your pressure.

After a bit more tweaking, here is the list that I ran on Friday night, as there was a 1k with free entry to the 5k if you did well:

[deck]4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Preordain
3 Lightning Bolt
3 Spell Pierce
2 Mana Leak
2 Arc Trail
2 Day of Judgment
2 Gideon Jura
1 Inferno Titan
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Celestial Colonnade
3 Seachrome Coast
3 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
2 Glacial Fortress
3 Mountain
4 Plains
3 Island
2 Evolving Wilds
Sideboard
4 Cunning Sparkmage
1 Basilisk Collar
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Divine Offering
1 Inferno Titan
4 Flashfreeze[/deck]

This build ended up performing well, and I got 2nd after going 6-1. The tournament was Swiss +1, so I would have actually won if Matt Nass lost his last round (after beating me a few rounds prior). Sadly, he unexpectedly won all his matches, so I had to content myself with a pair of Jaces for my time. More valuable than that, though, was what I learned from the event:

- The Valakut matchup sucks game one, but is favorable enough postboard that it isn’t bad overall.

- [card]Divine Offering[/card] is actually pretty mediocre in equipment mirrors. I first noticed this after realizing that every time my opponents sided in artifact removal, I was happy. They were actively making their deck worse, and all to trade 1 for 1 with a card I got for free off Stoneforge. It wasn’t like I was tapping out to Sword with no regard for anything they could have, and getting blown out as a result. If I suspected they had artifact removal, I would play more conservatively, and wait until I had counter backup. If it was bad for them to side in artifact removal, why wasn’t the same true for me? I have since been disenchanted with that plan, and resolved to at least cut one of the Offerings.

- The red spells were awesome against both aggro and control. Because of the success of Stoneforge Mystic, there were no “true” control decks left. The strategy is just not viable. Therefore, the only “control” decks were basically mirrors, and the red spells were pretty sweet there. [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] being sweet in a UW mirror might sound odd, but it definitely was key in Mystic battles, and could remove a blocker for an equipped Hawk.

After the tournament, Wrapter, fob, and myself compared notes, and decided on the list we wanted to run on Saturday. Playing in the 1k also let us get a sample of the metagame, since many of the 5k players showed up Friday for additional gaming.

Here is the sweet, sweet list we all ran:

[deck]4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Preordain
3 Cunning Sparkmage
3 Lightning Bolt
3 Spell Pierce
2 Mana Leak
2 Arc Trail
2 Gideon Jura
1 Inferno Titan
1 Basilisk Collar
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Celestial Colonnade
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
1 Glacial Fortress
4 Mountain
2 Plains
3 Island
1 Evolving Wilds
Sideboard
4 Flashfreeze
2 Mana Leak
2 Pyroclasm
2 Twisted Image
1 Deprive
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Cunning Sparkmage
1 Divine Offering
1 Inferno Titan[/deck]

There are quite a few things going on here. The main one is the inclusion of [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] in the main deck, which was mostly a function of the point I described above. Sparkmage is actually good against the control decks now! Even RUG has [card lotus cobra]Cobras[/card], and in the mirror the Sparkmages dominate. Wraths are nowhere to be seen, for the reasons I went over. Even against the super aggressive decks, [card]Pyroclasm[/card] and [card]Arc Trail[/card] do the job better. The mana gets different, both because you don’t need WW on turn four anymore and because we cut a land entirely. I liked 26 in Paris, and think it ends up fine, especially since the colored mana symbols in the deck got much better.

The sideboard definitely has some spice in it. The addition of more counterspells makes the Valakut matchup better, especially since many of their anti-counterspell cards like [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] or [card]Gaea's Revenge[/card] are terrible against the deck (all those Hawks just clog up the board, and that’s without mentioning the two protection Swords). [card]Summoning Trap[/card] can definitely be a problem, but this deck shouldn’t have to tap out much, and you can realistically counter both their Titan and a Trap most of the time.

[card]Twisted Image[/card] was all Wrapter, but I think it is actually good. The three main targets are, in order of importance, [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card], [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], [card gruesome encore]Cunning Sparkmage[/card], [card]Signal Pest[/card], [card]Ornithopter[/card]. If you are paying attention, that means it can go in against no less than four decks, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The main use is to kill Overgrown Battlement, since 4 Battlements is stock in Valakut now, and this deck didn’t have an effective way to deal with them. It gets even more awesome now that many Valakut decks board in Wall of Tanglecord; they are boarding in a mediocre Limited card and you are boarding in a bad one, yet the advantage is yours! Boros has both Sparkmage and Lynx, and this gets both, the Lynx being much more important. Finally, in the mirror and against Kuldotha Red it is a reasonable card to bring in, though not as good as against Valakut. Try it; it’s pretty sweet!

I still kept one [card]Divine Offering[/card] just in case, since having access to one isn’t so bad, especially against [card]Bonehoard[/card] from Boros.

The second [card]Inferno Titan[/card] was a bit excessive, and I’d probably scale back to one in the future.

As for the actual tournament?

Fob got [card koth of the hammer]Koth’ed[/card] to death rather quickly, which sucked, but Wrapter and I started out crushing.

I beat UW control from the Stone Age (no Mystics, [card baneslayer angel]Baneslayers[/card], etc) to start out the event, and then proceeded to beat a combination of mirrors, mono-red decks, and even a RUG deck.

Wrapter and I met at 5-0 with two rounds left, and took an admittedly risky draw. We knew there was a chance that one of us would have to play for it in the next round, but at least one of us was safe, so it seemed fine.

Of course, I jumped Wrapter in tiebreakers, he got paired down, and promptly lost. He was still in if the lowest tiebreaker x-1 lost, but a peeled Inferno Titan guaranteed that wouldn’t happen.

The Top 8 was pretty anticlimactic. I faced Michael Hetrick (ShipItHolla), who was playing the straight UW version of Caw-whatever. The coverage can be found here.

I actually thought there was no way I could lose game one. I was on the play, had turn 2 Mystic, turn three Bolt his Mystic and put in Sword, and still had more gas. He ran out a Hawk, which chumped my equipped Mystic, and I resolved my own Hawk. I managed to get a Sword hit in at one point, and felt extremely far ahead.

Unfortunately, Hetrick had some spice in his deck too. His maindeck Linvala shut down my Sparkmages, and his [card]Tumble Magnet[/card] bought him a ton of time. He [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d my [card gideon jura]Gideon[/card], Wrathed again, and eventually got his Sword plus a Colonnade online. I still was going to kill him with my [card celestial colonnade]Colonnade[/card], but he peeled a [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] to crush my dreams. Edge definitely is a point in favor of straight UW, since it certainly gave him the edge that game.

Game two was probably my fault. I kept a 1-land [card]Preordain[/card] hand, though it did have Mystic, Jace, and 2 [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card]s. Still, it was a little ambitious, and though I found a second land, I never found more, and died without putting up much resistance.

I would definitely play the deck again, though I would change around a few of the slots. I think cutting the maindeck [card]Inferno Titan[/card] for a [card]Tumble Magnet[/card] would be awesome for the mirror, as well as giving you at least one out for various Titans. The sideboard is pretty close to what I like, so I would leave it be (including keeping the one Titan, since I still want access to one).

Sideboarding with the deck isn’t too difficult either, since the red cards or the counterspells are usually bad in any given matchup, and the sideboard just has more of them. The mirror is the trickiest, and I don’t board the same way usually. Taking out a mix of counters and Arc Trails is what I’ve been doing, and putting in the Sparkmage, the Sword, the Offering, and the Titan, with [card]Twisted Image[/card] coming in only if they have Sparkmages. As usual, I advocate sideboarding on the fly, since having a pre-written sideboarding guide can stifle the last-minute adjustments you often have to make, depending on the individual card choices or play styles of your opponents.

Good luck to anyone choosing to get Twisted in Standard, since there really is nothing better than the look on your opponent’s face when you kill their t1 [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] with it.

LSV